(CNSNews.com) -- Just a few months ago, Idowu Ajibola was the owner and manager of the small Rehoboth Pharmacy in the quiet St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., a small but stable business nestled within a row of locally owned shops on one of the few main drags running through the small city of 52,000 people.
Now, there's barely a building left.
“I feel that I was a victim twice,” Ajibola told CNSNews.com at his store, which was severely damaged by rioters in the second wave of Ferguson riots on Nov. 24-25. “It’s very devastating.”
It’s been a little more than two weeks since Ferguson was rocked by the second set of violent riots and looting that broke out when a grand jury decided not to bring charges against white police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August. Rioters ransacked dozens of stores, burned several others, torched police cars and ultimately left the small city and its citizens to bear the scars of the violence.
With the rioters and most of the media gone, the process of trying to assess, recover, and rebuild is only just beginning for many small business owners like Ajibola.
“I pray I stay open,” Ajibola told CNSNews.com, trying to smile as he looked about his small, ransacked store. Meager offerings of pain medicine and paper towels sat on the nearly empty shelves, as tiny rays of natural light peeked through the plywood that covered the holes where windows and doors used to be.
“I pray I stay open,” he repeated. “That’s all I can say. I don’t want to be too negative, but I’m praying about everything. I’ve been thinking about it. But I don’t know.”
An immigrant from Nigeria, Ajibola had come to America to go to school in 1983. After graduating from college in St. Louis, Ajibola worked in several states before returning to Ferguson eight years ago with his wife, where he built his little business on West Florissant St. from scratch using his hard-won American education, his life savings and a lot of faith in God.
The Rehoboth Pharmacy is located in Dellwood, a joint-community with Ferguson that sits mere blocks from where Michael Brown was shot after a confrontation with Officer Wilson in August. The pharmacy and the neighboring business were “ground-zero” for the protests that quickly morphed into violence and destruction after Brown’s death, Ajibola explained.
It was during that first week of upheaval that the pharmacy was first ransacked.
“In August, the protests on the first day, my store wasn’t hit, thank God,” Ajibola said. “So I was hoping it was going to die down.”
The following week, Ajibola’s worst fears were realized when the alarm company that monitors his store called and told him someone had broken into the shop. Fearing for his safety, he waited to visit the store until he thought the violence may have died down, venturing out late at night to see how much of his life’s work had been left in tatters.
“It was about two o’clock in the morning when I was coming,” he said. “At that particular time the place was already secured by the police, so they wouldn’t allow anyone to come in here, because they sealed the road. Nobody was allowed. So I had to explain myself, that I just got a call from the police department and from the alarm department, so they allowed me in.”
The sight that greeted him was that of shards of glass and empty shelves.
“The place was completely vandalized and open,” he said. “And then I knew it was completely broken into.”
“They broke about four doors and four windows,” Ajibola described. “And it was ransacked and very bad. They looted the store. They tried to take some medicine.”
“Thank God at that particular time I put so many things away for safety reasons, like narcotics. I was hoping they wouldn’t come back but for security precautions. So at that time they couldn’t get to some things, I mean the narcotics,” Ajibola added.
Afraid to lose what little remained of his store, Ajibola decided to stay throughout the rest of the night to try to ward off any more destruction.
“I was afraid to leave that night,” he continued. “So I had to sleep in my car and stay in my car until daybreak. I said, ‘God, protect me that nobody comes and I lose some more.’”
The next day, Ajibola said he called some friends and volunteers to help him clean up the store as best he could. With few options available to get the store back on its feet, Ajibola nailed boards over the broken doors and windows – a lean-to fix that he hasn’t been able to replace yet.
Then, like so many other business owners, he waited.
In November, word of an impending grand jury decision over whether or not to indict Wilson for Brown’s death began to hang over the community, where business owners waited for another round of nightmares and loss. The state and city governments tried to ease their fears by telling them their businesses would be protected if another round of violence kicked up, Ajibola said, explaining employers were promised to provide security against whatever might come.
“They told us we were well prepared for the second time around,” he said. “We went to a series of meetings.”
Reassured by the government that his store would be safe, Ajibola waited for the grand jury’s decision with at least some confidence that his business would be protected and he could continue to rebuild from the destruction in August. Then, on November 24, the grand jury announced that Wilson wouldn’t be charged with any crime in connection with Brown’s death. For the hundreds of Brown supporters clustered in Ferguson, anger erupted into chaos.
“That’s when I saw something on the TV,” Ajibola remembered. “They were showing it. I was looking at CNN, at the local channels at everything that was happening. And then the burning, and everything, and I started to be very, very anxious. The anxiety, the fear… I knew that they would be coming to me before not too long.”
“I didn’t know,” Ajibola told CNSNews.com. “I was hoping and praying they wouldn’t vandalize or come here. But by midnight, I got the alarm. People called me again that said there was a lot of motion in the store. And that’s when I became paralyzed.”
The scenes of burning police cars and shattering glass were frightening enough to keep Ajibola at home that night, he said. He waited until daybreak to go to his store, praying there was even a building left to repair. As it turned out, the building itself was about the only thing left.
“When I came, I saw so many trashing, so many looting, so many vandalism into the whole building,” he said.
Between the damage in August and the second looting in November, Ajibola estimates he has lost about $500,000 in stolen merchandise and building damages.
“I feel that I was a victim twice,” Ajibola said. “It’s very devastating.”
“I don’t have anything to do with Mike Brown. I also have sympathy for Mike Brown’s case. But then they come and loot my store and break into it and cause me all this headache and all this financial burden,” he said.
Two weeks after his store was completely ransacked for the second time, Ajibola said he’s still waiting to hear back from his insurance company on whether or not his losses will be covered under his policy.
Despite assurances from the state before the grand jury’s announcement that his store would be safe, Ajibola said he hasn’t heard from the state government or local officials about any offers to help rebuild.
“The state and the city has not come up with anything so far,” Ajibola said. “I think absolutely they should. Number one is that for the primary reason that, as you can see, they didn’t provide any security at this particular point.”
“This is ground zero. This is where the first violence happened. I would have assumed, I would have thought it would have been the first place they would have tried to protect,” he added. “The government, they weren’t there for us. They weren’t there for us at all -- not the first time around, not the second time around, even after they promised that they would.”
If insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the repairs, he may lose everything he worked so hard over years to build. With a wife and daughter at home and another daughter in college, the fallout could be devastating for Ajibola’s family, he said.
“I have got some insurance. I don’t know how much they’re going to cover, but I’m sure they’re not covering everything. I don’t know how much they’re going to be able to do on this one,” he explained.
“I have a family here. I have my children here, I have my wife here,” Ajibola said. “That would be very disastrous to my family. I’m the breadwinner, I’m the provider. I’m the source. So this is not good.”
As for what’s next for his business, and the city of Ferguson, Ajibola simply said, “I don’t know.”
“I think the jury is still out,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the business. Are they going to come back? Can they come back? Something I know for sure is that some of these people, some of us, actually, already damaged, some of them may not recover. Some of them, it will take a long time to recover. The City of Ferguson and the City of Dellwood’s damages, it takes a very long time to build this area.”
“Even if I want to come back, I don’t know if I can have insurance to take me,” he said. “I don’t know if I can afford insurance, I don’t know if insurance is even gone to take it. The jury is still out there for us, for people like me.”